Alix’s gaze went straight to two of the deadliest-looking men she’d ever seen. Dressed in black League uniforms, there was no mistaking their occupation.
They were assassins.
One had white-blond hair that was braided down his back—the customary fashion for an assassin. His sleeves bore the deep burgundy mark of a dagger topped by a crown. That denoted him as the baddest of the bad.
A Command Assassin of the First Order.
And beside him was what appeared to be an Andarion with short black hair worn in a series of spiral curls. There was no mistaking his fangs as he tongued one of them as if he were sizing them up for dinner. Either he was newly trained or something had happened to his long hair.
Both of them wore opaque shades—a wardrobe choice designed to unnerve those around them. And boy, did it ever work. It also kept people from knowing who the assassins were looking at.
Or, more to the point, targeting.
Though right now, the blasters aimed at them gave her a good idea that the targets du jour was her and Paden.
The dark-haired assassin came forward to disarm Paden and pat her down. It took all of her restraint not to protest or fight, but confronting a trained assassin wasn’t exactly an award-winning act of intelligence.
The assassin handed Paden’s ID to the blond, who flipped it open and frowned. He looked back at Paden and studied his features. “You don’t look like Syn.”
Paden scowled. “Excuse me.”
The Andarion sniffed at him. “I say we kill him just to be sure.”
The blond screwed his face up. “I don’t know. Might ruin Syn’s day, which would then ruin ours, and I can do without another bitch session.” He paused as he looked back down at the ID. “Bugger it, let the bastard pass. We can always kill him later.”
What in the known worlds?
But as she watched them, Alix had a strange suspicion about who these two men were. “Do your people know our people?”
The blond flashed a grin that took the badass right out of him. No wonder assassins didn’t laugh or joke, especially not when they were as good-looking as these two. He lowered his blaster and held his hand out to her. “Commander Jayce Quiakides. Nice to meet you.”
She arched her brow at a name she recognized. “Zarina and Taryn’s brother?”
“On the days when I claim them.” Jayce indicated the assassin beside him. “This is Captain DJ Hauk.”
She tried not to react to the name. DJ just didn’t fit with his lethal aura. It was the name someone gave a child, not a killer. “DJ?”
He passed an angry glare at Jayce. “It’s actually Darion. I was named after my uncle. No one calls me DJ anymore except for a certain group of derelicts and my parents.”
Jayce let out an evil laugh. “It could be worse. His father’s named Dancer.”
DJ didn’t appear the least bit amused by that. “Don’t go there, Jay. I’m only one kill away from becoming a Command Assassin. Be a damn shame for that kill to be you.”
Jayce snorted. “You ain’t that good, punk. Now let’s get them inside with the others.”
Alix hesitated, unsure about this even if they were friends with Devyn and his family. “Are we in custody?”
DJ nodded. “Yeah, the protective kind. Where’s Devyn?”
“Turning himself in.”
They both gaped at her.
“What?” Jayce asked in a ferocious tone.
“I tried to talk him out of it, but I don’t think I need to tell you how stubborn he is.”
Jayce sent a peeved glare to DJ. “No, you don’t. Obstinance runs thick through his gene pool.”
DJ snorted. “Yeah, ‘cause it so passed straight through yours. You have met your sister, right?”
Jayce shoved him.
Paden stepped forward to break up their good-natured fight. “Look, if you guys have her, I want to go back and check on Devyn.”
Jayce cocked his head. “No offense, but I don’t know how trustworthy you are.” He turned to Darion. “Go with, and if he begins to look suspicious—”
“Kill him before I make the call to let you know. Got it, boss.”
DJ grabbed Paden by the arm and hauled him out.
As soon as they were gone, Jayce led her into a League shuttle where Omari, Nero, Sway, Vik and Manashe were lounging around as if completely comfortable with their surroundings and oblivious to any danger.
Omari looked up as she entered and left Manashe’s side to hug her close.
She squeezed him tight, grateful that this wasn’t a trick of some kind. “I’m so glad to see you guys.”
“You, too.” Omari released her and stepped back. “Where’s Dad?”
She hated to be the one to answer that. “He turned himself in to buy us time to get out of this.”
Every male there cursed. And inwardly, so did she.
“That was about stupid,” Nero sneered. “Where was his head?”
“Obviously up his sphincter.” Vik’s tone was snide and dry.
Alix tried to explain it. “He didn’t know Jayce and Darion were here. He was just trying to save us.”
“It was still stupid,” Vik and Nero said simultaneously.
She had to give them that, and it wasn’t worth arguing a point she actually agreed with. “I know. I tried everything to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“It’s all right.” Jayce drew near. “I sent DJ over. He’ll keep an eye on him.”
Nero rolled his eyes. “You have the pot watching the kettle? I swear, Jayce, you must have gotten brain damage when Adron shoved you down the stairs when you were a toddler.”
“It’ll be all right,” she assured them. “Devyn said that once they realize the evidence was fabricated, they’ll let him go.”
Sway looked ill at the news. “Alix, we had to make it real to sell it for this plan.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He didn’t fake that evidence. It’s all true. Devyn just sent himself to prison to keep all of us safe.”
* * *
Paden arrived just as they were loading Devyn into the shuttle for transport to Ritadaria. He caught the look of fury on Devyn’s face when he saw Paden, and he instantly understood the source of it.
As soon as he could, he mouthed the words to his brother, They’re safe. Promise.
Still, the skepticism burned him. Not that he blamed Devyn for it. He wouldn’t trust him either.
“Good job, Lieutenant Whelms,” the captain said as he joined them for the transfer. “The CMOD would like to speak to you immediately.”
Paden inclined his head before he stepped into a private communications cube to call Merjack and see what the bastard wanted. “Sir?” he asked as soon as Merjack’s face came up on the wall. “Lieutenant Whelms here.”
There was an evil glint in the man’s eyes as he gave him a smug smile. “Lieutenant, I hear congratulations are in order.”
“I don’t know about that, sir, but Kell is in custody.”
“And the others?”
Merjack cocked one arrogant brow at that. “Even the slave?”
Merjack tsked. “Damn shame. She looked like she would have been fun for a night or two. Oh, well. I’ll have to console myself with her sister… In the meantime, I want Kell brought to me as soon as you arrive.”
With a curt nod, Merjack cut the transmission. Paden leaned his head back as he debated what to do. But in the end, he knew he had no power against someone like Merjack.
Setting Devyn free was going to require a lot more muscle than what he had, and inside, he knew the truth he didn’t want to face.
He’d just sent his only brother to prison.
Devyn sat alone in a cell as they flew him toward Ritadaria and a future he really didn’t want to face. Why didn’t I tell her I love her?
He should have. But for some reason, the words wouldn’t come.
It figured. He’d never been one for a lot of sweet talk, anyway. It was one of the things that Clotilde had complained about most.
Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes and summoned an image of Alix lying nak*d in his arms. Yeah, that helped a lot.
“I’ve never seen anyone look so happy while going to prison.”
He opened his eyes to find Paden staring down at him. “I’m not happy.”
“You shouldn’t be. I just saw the files. What the f**k have you done?”
“I saved my family.”
“You’re an idiot, Devyn. Have you any idea what they’ll do to you?”
“Yeah, I do. I’ve seen the scars on my father’s back from prison. And I’ve heard the stories Nero has told that Dad denies. I know exactly what I’m facing. But at least I’m a man and not a child like Dad was when he went in.”
Paden cursed. “I don’t understand you. You could have handed over the slave and been free.”
“Freedom bought on the back of a loved one isn’t worth shit.”
“She’s a slave.”
Devyn glared at him. “You better be glad I’m cuffed or you’d be looking for your teeth right now. Alix Gerran isn’t a slave. She’s a lady, and I would die for her.”
He shook his head. “I hope you’re still saying that when Merjack executes you.”
Alix paced the shuttle floor as they landed on Gouran. Guilt rode her furiously over what Devyn had done.
As soon as they were cleared to leave the ship, she bolted for the door.
Vik caught her before she could get all the way down the ramp. “What are you doing?”
“I have to get to Devyn.”
“Alix, there’s nothing you can do.”
“I have to try. I can’t leave him there. You don’t understand, Vik. I love him, and I can’t let him pay for something I did. I don’t care what it takes, we have to save him.”
“Those words, little girl, just saved your life.”
Alix turned at the woman’s voice that came from behind her. Tall, slender and beautiful, she wore a dark blue Armstich suit that hugged her curves in a way that said it had been custom-fitted to her.
And in an instant, she knew that this was Devyn’s mother. Though they didn’t favor each other much in looks, there was no mistaking the lethal aura or deadly glare.
She involuntarily took a step back.
“You don’t have to fear me. If I wanted you dead, you’d already be bleeding.” She looked at Vik. “How could you let him do this?”
“I know you’re not going to pin this on me, Shay. I didn’t raise the embryo. You did. It’s what you get for teaching him things like honor, love, courage and loyalty.” He made a mocking noise. “If you’d left him a scared little snot-nose, he’d still be living in your basement.”
“I don’t have a basement.”
“Yeah, but you’d have built one if he wanted it.”
Shahara rolled her eyes. “I am so angry with you right now, Vik, you might want to curb your tongue before I forget how much Syn and Dev love you.”
Shahara turned as Oman came running. She caught him in a fierce hug that made Alix raise her brow. One, because he dwarfed her, and two, Shahara didn’t really look old enough to be Devyn’s mother, never mind Oman’s grandmother.
She gave Oman a tight squeeze before she released him. “I swear you get more handsome every time I see you.”
“You always say that.”
“It’s because it’s true.” She stepped past him as Nero came down the ramp. “Nero, we need a full debriefing. Now.”
“What are you planning?”
“To get my baby back and to kill anyone who gets in my way.”
Alix listened to Shahara, Nykyrian, Syn, Nero, Jayce, Sway, Vik, Darling Cruel and Devyn’s legendary uncle Caillen all argue on how to get Devyn out of custody. But as every minute ticked by, she became more and more concerned about him.
“I can shoot my way out without a problem,” Shahara snarled. Syn shook his head. “The hell you say. You’re not that good, baby. They’d mow you down.”
“It’s quite a show, isn’t it?”
Alix jerked her head up at the sound of Zarina’s voice. “What are you doing here?”
She crooked her finger for her to join her outside.
Curious, Alix followed her out into the hallway and into a small room.
Her jaw hit the floor.
Her mother and Tempest stood in the middle of the room, looking about nervously. Her heart pounding, she ran to them.
“Alix!” Tempest squealed, pulling her into a tight hug.
Laughing, she looked at the two of them, who didn’t appear any worse for the wear. “I don’t understand. How did you get here?”
Her mother pointed to Zarina. “She and another lady came and they freed us.”